I've received some comments from trail users upset about my mishap on Yankee Boy Basin, where I slid off the trail and left some tracks on the land. This was unintentional, and I certainly didn't want to disturb the area. It was a mistake.
For clarification, I'd like to note that the trail was open at the time this occurred, in mid-October 2018, and other vehicles — even hikers — were on the Yankee Boy Basin road while I was up there. A local offroad outfitter with an understanding of the terrain pointed me to this trail. Once I found myself in the predicament, there was no other way out. Colorado is a beautiful state and I'm sorry I did some damage there.
FARMINGTON, New Mexico – Looking for a Rubicon-testing trail in Colorado, I headed to Poughkeepsie Gulch in Ouray, on the Western Slope.
Even though Wyoming's my favorite state, Colorado wins for nonstop heart-stopping views in the lower 48. The drive from Fairplay wandered north through Breckenridge, then above the ski town to cross the snow-covered Boreas Pass. In the valleys on the other side, the trail cut through evergreens in the Rocky Mountain National Forest, cattle grazing lands, lonesome Western ranges, a 360-degree horizon of distant peaks. I also found frequent rock-filled puddles, so thanks again Spencer and MudBudz for coaching on how not to kill a vehicle in a mere eight inches of water.
I shacked up in Montrose, waking up early to hit Poughkeepsie Gulch. The woman in Ouray's information center looked at me like I'd appeared from the 19th century as she informed me, "Poughkeepsie's closed! Everything's closed! Done until next year!" She told me there was a little trail above town, so I shuffled to the Jeep to see what I could see. The little trail lead to Box Canyon Falls, but once on Camp Bird Road, I skipped the falls and kept climbing the mountainside, to Yankee Boy Basin.
A thread of wet, rocky dirt ascended the hillside between Gilpin Peak and Teakettle Mountain, headed for Blue Lake Pass. Snow piled the higher I went. I passed a sign warning that only those with high-clearance 4WD should continue. I scoffed. I hit a switchback a half mile beyond the sign, the snow getting deeper. Then another switchback, after which the road got steeper and the snow got deeper again. I got out and walked. Someone had tried to come through recently, getting perhaps 50 yards up. I decided that if I couldn't make it to Blue Lake Pass, I was going to get further than the people who'd come before me. My first stupid move. I could barely move without sliding down the hill. If I'd stopped to listen after conjuring that brainstorm, I could have heard the trail whisper, "You're SO dumb."
I pointed the Wrangler up the hill and went for it. I didn't get far. I backed up, gunned it again. I got a little further. I backed all the way to the corner and gunned it harder. I made it to just about where the previous vehicle's tracks ended. Fifteen feet of gravel marked the edge of the trail where I'd stopped. I decided to put the Wrangler's left-side wheels on the gravel, lock both axles, and heave-ho. This time I got further than the other tracks, by a couple of feet, then the Wrangler bogged. I'd won. But I knew I'd get no further, so I put the Wrangler in reverse to back down the hill.
My throttle-heavy attempt had dug a trench in the gravel down to the dirt. The rear left wheel took the path of least resistance, over the lip of the trail and down the slope. I put the Wrangler in Drive and got nothing but wheelspin. I backed up a foot. The Jeep slid two feet further over the trail edge. I crept backward into the snow on the slope, hoping I could turn or accelerate myself into a course correction. That didn't work. The Wrangler slid so far over that I had to go with the momentum or else I'd make the situation worse. The whole rig slid down the slope, stopping about halfway between the upper and lower switchbacks, stuck up against a berm of mud and snow.
Well. This wasn't ideal. I'd read on a Wrangler forum that you could tilt a stock Jeep up to 40 degrees before rolling over. That was before the Rubicon got put on 33s, and before I'd put 800 pounds of lightly secured gear in the back of mine, though. I sat supposedly 10 degrees away from that anecdotal bright line, and didn't feel like I had a 25 percent margin. I waited in the driver's seat for a few minutes, looking at the mountains, thinking. It would have been a gorgeous place to eat it. Not once did I think about how I'd explain a rollover to Jeep — and that was assuming I lived. I was worried about how I'd explain it to Nena Barlowe, who I had assured on numerous occasions that I had nothing to prove and wouldn't do anything stupid. Except climb 12,000 feet up a mountain, alone, in 30-degree weather, on a 30-degree slope, nary a winch point anywhere, and start issuing dares to myself.
I still couldn't go forward. Every time I tried, since I was facing a steeper portion of slope, the weightier back end slid downhill ahead of the front. Because the slope got shallower behind me, where the switchbacks met, I could reverse – really slowly – and manage the back-end slide. I pulled away from the snow berm and backed up with just enough throttle to get the rear pointed a few degrees up the hill. Then I crept forward with just enough throttle to get the front steered into the slide, and turned a few degrees further down the slope to get the nose ahead of the rear. I repeated that two-step until I'd sawed my way into pointing downhill.
I made it to the switchback below. Alive. And slightly less dumb. But only slightly.